March 23, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 10:36 PM

TAX WHAT YOU DON

Gas consumption falling as prices rise (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 23 March 2012)

Americans have pumped less gas every week for the past year.

During those 52 weeks, gasoline consumption dropped by 4.2 billion gallons, or 3 percent, according to MasterCard SpendingPulse. The decline is longer than a 51-week slide during the recession.

The main reason: higher gas prices. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:57 PM

BUT FIRST YOU HAVE TO BREAK THE BAKER'S LIGHTBULB:

BEST LED LIGHTBULB: PHILIPS AMBIENTLED (Brian Lam, 3/23/12, Wirecutter)

My favorite LED lightbulb is the Philips 12.5 watt ambientLED, a lamp as bright and as warmly colored as a traditional 60 watt incandescent. Nearly everyone who reviewed it found it to be their favorite.

But let me get this out of the way: it's $25. LED Lightbulbs aren't cheap. But they'll last 15-25 years compared to about a year for regular bulbs. And they only use 1/5th of the power that older bulbs require-about $1 vs $5 a year. So they can eventually save you hundreds of dollars because you won't have to replace them as often, and they'll burn less energy.

Posted by orrinj at 9:48 PM

NO ONE DISAGREES, BUT THE EPA:

Supreme Court sides with Idaho landowners against EPA (Bettina Boxall and David G. Savage, 3/23/12, Los Angeles Times)

The Supreme Court strengthened the rights of property owners who are confronted by federal environmental regulators, ruling Wednesday that landowners are entitled to a hearing to challenge the government's threats to fine them for alleged Clean Water Act violations. [...]

Vermont Law School professor Pat Parenteau said that he doubted the opinion would have much effect on Clean Water Act enforcement because it applied to "an extremely narrow range of cases" and that most people in similar situations complied with the agency orders.

"I think the court was certainly very concerned that EPA was telling people they had to ... pay all these fines but also saying, we're not going to tell you when, if ever, you're going to get a day in court," Parenteau said. "I think the court was right to call the EPA on that."

The Sacketts bought a parcel of less than an acre in 2005, intending to build a three-bedroom house. The lot is in a residential area near Priest Lake, and other houses had been constructed between their land and the lake. They obtained a county permit and trucked in dirt and gravel fill. A few months later the EPA informed them that their property contained wetlands and said they had violated clean water regulations.


The proper line of argument is that designating the property as a wetlands constitutes a taking for public use and, therefore, the owners are entitled to just compensation.  The EPA can clean it up and the owners can buy a new lot.


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Posted by orrinj at 4:09 PM

A TEAM-BUILDING EXERCISE:

PAINTBALLING WITH HEZBOLLAH IS THE PATH STRAIGHT TO THEIR HEARTS (MITCHELL PROTHERO, 3/23/12, Vice)

With me out of the game, another teammate eliminated, and a third being held hostage, that leaves only one remaining member of Team Sahafi (Arabic for "journalists"): Andrew Exum, a former Army Ranger captain who retired after three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and has since become a noted counterinsurgency expert. When he's not playing paintball in the basement of a Beirut strip mall, Exum is flying to Kabul to advise the US military or writing papers with phrases like "population-centric" in their titles. He also heads up abumuqawama.com, a blog revered by War on Terror geeks. The main thrust of Exum's strategy is to separate insurgents from the broader population. Tonight, however, as two Hezbollah fighters drag and push his comrade-turned-hostage toward him, Ranger Exum makes little effort to separate good guy from bad and shoots all three of them repeatedly. This delights our opponents, who appear to appreciate the lack of emotion shown by the American warrior. Finally, they relent--no one can doubt they have been "killed"--and forfeit the game.

We all convene back in the arena's cantina, where there are snacks and weird murals suggesting that paintball is the best way to deal with one's inner aggression. If the initial introductions between the two sides had been slightly tense--the fighters seemed nervous about being identified, and we were anxious about them backing out--the realization that they had just attempted to use a hostage as a human shield during a paintball fight loosened things up. The Hezbollah guys all laugh when Exum jokes that he killed Ben to keep him off some Al Jazeera reel. And they respond--pointing at me--that after the next game "the Germans will have to negotiate for this one." It's a somewhat sick inside joke: German diplomats are usually tasked with negotiating Hezbollah-Israeli prisoner and body swaps.

Soha--my Lebanese girlfriend, who agreed to serve as a translator/liaison--decides that Team Hezbollah's use of actual military hardware, their hostage-taking tactics, and, most of all, their refusal to leave the game when hit means that the rules need clarifying. She has a few words with the arena's confused manager, who five seconds into the first match quickly realized he was hosting a very peculiar party tonight and who, for the first two games, was too intimidated to remind the four guerrillas to adhere to the posted rules. So it's up to Soha to badger both him and the Hezbollah boys so that they quit it with the cheating. In setting up the ground rules for the game, the Hezbollah team members sent word that "no Lebanese" could be present, concerned that someone would recognize them and tell their bosses they were breaking some serious rules. But Soha charmed them within a few minutes, and her presence slowly became welcome.

Quickly, Soha brokers a deal: Everyone agrees that, for the rest of the game, only head shots will count as kills. Also, "outside equipment" is officially banned. During the first two games, it was clear that Team Hezbollah had little fear of nonlethal paintball fire; they'd all been hit multiple times and stubbornly stayed in the game. But they seem to respect the notion that when someone is shot in the head, he's done. Plus, it'll be more fun if everyone's harder to kill. We decide to call the first two games down the middle: one win for them, the other for us.

This gets Coco's attention. "Really?" he asks. "But Hezbollah always wins." [...]

My motivation for brokering the match was largely driven by the simple journalistic need to better understand the group. Hezbollah's highly professional press office is quite friendly toward Western journalists--eagerly taking meetings and repeating the same bland propaganda spewed by their official outlets. Requests for access to its foot soldiers, however, are always ignored. Even the idea of such a meeting happening is taboo. Partly, it's an institutional thing. Top Hezbollah boss Hasan Nasrallah likes to joke about how taciturn his fighters can be, once explaining that when the 2006 war broke out, his security detail moved him to a location so secret he didn't know where he was for 34 days.

After more than five years in Beirut, I'd never once found a way to interact closely with Hezbollah fighters. So I wondered: What might I learn if I could get them out of their tightly disciplined environment, into a place where they might relax a little and trust me enough to reveal even a fleeting truth or insight? The rest of Team Sahafi is composed of similarly minded foreign correspondents.

Our roster includes Ben Gilbert, a radio and print reporter who moved to Lebanon in 2006 after a year reporting from Iraq; Nicholas Blanford, who has been reporting on Lebanon and Hezbollah for 17 years and who just put out Warriors of God, an exhaustive military history of the group; the impossibly tall and baby-faced New York Times photographer Bryan Denton, who has been in Beirut for the past five years, covering various outbreaks of violence and the 2006 war with Israel, before deciding to cover the revolution in Libya; and Exum, our secret weapon. Our only nonjournalist, Exum was the key both to getting the fighters to show up and to our having any real chance at winning. He left the army before his 30th birthday and is now wrapping up a PhD in "insurgency studies." His take on the situation was that it'd serve as an indispensable bit of field research.
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Posted by orrinj at 4:03 PM

THE SALTINE CELEBRATION:

The Story of Us, A People in Exile: On The New American Haggadah (JESSICA FREEMAN-SLADE, March 23, 2012, The Millions)

The New American Haggadah's strengths are especially prominent in the commentary dispersed throughout the text. Each major portion of the Seder is accompanied by four perspectives -- Middle-East historian Jeffrey Goldberg ("Nation"), director of the Center of Jewish Studies, Nathaniel Deutsch ("House of Study"), novelist and scholar Rebecca Newberger Goldstein ("Library"), and novelist Lemony Snicket ("Playground"). These contrasting voices bring out the multitudes of questions and quandaries inherent in the Passover story, and by secularizing the commentary, giving it over to political, liturgical, literary, and elementary analysis, they have made this into a vitally relevant piece of philosophical inquiry. Goldberg's "Nation" contributions are especially vital, contextualizing the Seder as a moral code that we as global citizens have tried (and failed) to uphold. (Sharp eyes will immediately scan the text for his take on the Israel-Palestine quagmire.) And Snicket's witty asides bring the perfect amount of snark to the text -- it will keep the antsy adolescent attendee entertained throughout the Seder while keeping them engaged with the evening's message. (Especially great is the retort to that ever-condescending narration of the Four Children -- Snicket offers, as an antidote, "The Four Parents.") Ending the Seder with Snicket's Seinfeldian examination of the bizarre Aramaic song, "Chad Gadya," lets you leave the table with a belly laugh -- made even more enjoyable after the required four glasses of wine.

What makes this volume such a pleasure to read, and what makes it the best book of modern religious thought in recent memory, is its demand that dialogue be a central part of worship. "Tonight is the night," Goldstein says, "that we sanctify storytelling," and nowhere is this more clear than in Englander's translation, framed with the essence of narrative-in-community in mind: "Adonai" becomes "Lord God-of-us, King of the Cosmos." The latter half is a bit grandiose, but the first part is spot-on. The voice of the storyteller-as-representative of the audience is central, and the translation of the Seder's outline suddenly clarifies why each part is crucial -- reading each stage as one line of dictation, "Sanctify and wash; dip split and tell; be washed and bless the poor man's bread; bitter, bundle, and set down to eat; hide it and bless; praise it; be pleased." Prayers are translated leniently, as if preparing for the not-so-adherent Jew, i.e. if you fail to dispose of all the leavened bread in your house, it's no big whup. And he lets the beauty of the language flow, turning prayers into poems. In a prayer for compassion, the plea is to "rescue and recover them -- delivering them from gorge to meadow, from darkness to light. Break them free of their shackles and lead them on to salvation. Do it with speed and in our days, and let us all say, Amen."


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Posted by orrinj at 1:43 PM

THANK YOU, MR. GEITHNER:

Obama nominates Dartmouth's Jim Yong Kim to be World Bank chief (Don Lee, March 23, 2012, LA Times)

President Obama on Friday nominated Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim, a physician and anthropologist by training, to succeed Robert Zoellick as the next president of the World Bank.

The naming of Kim was seen as a surprise.  Kim, 52, though highly regarded for his leadership in global health issues, is not well known in political or financial circles. But the appointment of the South Korean-born Kim may also deflect criticisms from developing economies of the United States having a lock on the World Bank's top position.

Hanover will be happy to see his tail lights.  He seriously told someone that one of his goals here was to see more ethnic restaurants open.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM

EAT YOUR PET:

The chia craze (Lauren Everitt, 3/23/12, BBC News Magazine)

Chia, or Salvia hispanica L, is a member of the mint family from Mexico and South America. The flowering plant can sprout in a matter of days, but chia's appeal is in the nutritional punch of its tiny seeds.

With more omega-3 fatty acids than salmon, a wealth of antioxidants and minerals, a complete source of protein and more fibre than flax seed, the seeds have been dubbed a "dieter's dream", "the running food", "a miracle", and "the ultimate super food", by advocates and athletes.

We've been selling them at the King for awhile.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM

JUST ANOTHER REASON MILITARY SPENDING WILL FALL BELOW 2% OF GDP:

U.S. Inches Toward Goal of Energy Independence (CLIFFORD KRAUSS and ERIC LIPTON, 3/23/12, NY Times)

At the same time, Americans are pumping significantly less gasoline. While that is partly a result of the recession and higher gasoline prices, people are also driving fewer miles and replacing older cars with more fuel-efficient vehicles at a greater clip, federal data show.

Taken together, the increasing production and declining consumption have unexpectedly brought the United States markedly closer to a goal that has tantalized presidents since Richard Nixon: independence from foreign energy sources, a milestone that could reconfigure American foreign policy, the economy and more. In 2011, the country imported just 45 percent of the liquid fuels it used, down from a record high of 60 percent in 2005.

"There is no question that many national security policy makers will believe they have much more flexibility and will think about the world differently if the United States is importing a lot less oil," said Michael A. Levi, an energy and environmental senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "For decades, consumption rose, production fell and imports increased, and now every one of those trends is going the other way."

How the country made this turnabout is a story of industry-friendly policies started by President Bush and largely continued by President Obama -- many over the objections of environmental advocates -- as well as technological advances that have allowed the extraction of oil and gas once considered too difficult and too expensive to reach. But mainly it is a story of the complex economics of energy, which sometimes seems to operate by its own rules of supply and demand.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM

THE FAT OF THE LAND:

Big Kill, Not Big Chill, Finished Off Giant Kangaroos (David Biello, March 22, 2012, Scientific American)

Around 40,000 years ago, the giant kangaroo disappeared from Australia. So did Diprotodon (rhinoceros-size wombats) and Palorchestes (tapirlike marsupials) as well as supersize birds, reptiles and some 50 other so-called megafauna--big animals. And now a record of fungal spores pulled from the swamp at Lynch's Crater in the northeastern corner of the continent reveals humans as the culprit.

"The megafauna declined soon after the time that we know people arrived in the region," explains zoologist Christopher Johnson of the University of Tasmania, lead author of the report published March 23 in Science. "We conclude that humans, not climate, caused the extinction."

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM

SETTING UP MITT'S COME TO JESUS MOMENT:

Jeb Bush: It's time to support Romney as Republican candidate (Salena Zito, 3/22/12, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW)

Bush, 59, the son of a president and brother of another, pushed aside any interest in running with Romney. But he has strong feelings on whom he wants Romney to pick as a running mate.

"Marco Rubio," he said of the freshman Florida GOP senator, who served as a volunteer on Bush's governor's campaign. Bush described Rubio, 40, as "dynamic, joyful, disciplined and principled."

"He is the best orator of American politics today, a good family man. He is not only a consistent conservative, but he has managed to find a way to communicate a conservative message full of hope and optimism," Bush said. [...]

Bush, who has urged the GOP to be more sensitive to Latino voters, said the party has a long way to go.

Latino voters are expected to represent the margin of victory in at least 10 to 15 key battleground states in November. Stopping the flow of illegal immigration from Mexico and South America emerged as a significant issue in GOP presidential debates.

"The problem lies in the tone," Bush said. "You do not have to sacrifice principle to win the Latino vote."

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Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM

RUN, VIZIER, RUN:

The Ottoman Empire's Life-or-Death Race (Smithsonian, 3/22/12, Mike Dash)

When very senior officials were sentenced to death, they would be dealt with by the bostancı basha in person, but--at least toward the end of the sultans' rule--execution was not the inevitable result of a death sentence. Instead, the condemned man and the bostancı basha took part in what was surely one of the most peculiar customs known to history: a race held between the head gardener and his anticipated victim, the result of which was, quite literally, a matter of life or death for the trembling grand vizier or chief eunuch required to undertake it.

How this custom came about remains unknown. From the end of the eighteenth century, however, accounts of the bizarre race began to emerge from the seraglio, and these seem reasonably consistent in their details. Death sentences passed within the walls of the Topkapi were generally delivered to the head gardener at the Central Gate; Godfrey Goodwin describes the next part of the ritual thus:

It was the bostancibaşi's duty to summon any notable.... When the vezir or other unfortunate miscreant arrived, he well knew why he had been summoned, but he had to bite his lip through the courtesies of hospitality before, at long last, being handed a cup of sherbet. If it were white, he sighed with relief, but if it were red he was in despair, because red was the color of death.

For most of the bostancıs' victims, the sentence was carried out immediately after the serving of the fatal sherbet by a group of five muscular young janissaries, members of the sultan's elite infantry. For a grand vizier, however, there was still a chance: as soon as the death sentence was passed, the condemned man would be allowed to run as fast as he was able the 300 yards or so from the palace, through the gardens, and down to the Fish Market Gate on the southern side of the palace complex, overlooking the Bosphorus, which was the appointed place of execution. 

If the deposed vizier reached the Fish Market Gate before the head gardener, his sentence was commuted to mere banishment. But if the condemned man found the bostanci basha waiting for him at the gate, he was summarily executed and his body hurled into the sea.

Ottoman records show that the strange custom of the fatal race lasted into the early years of the nineteenth century. The last man to save his neck by winning the life-or-death sprint was the Grand Vizier Hacı Salih Pasha, in November 1822. 
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Posted by orrinj at 6:03 AM

AN EXQUISITELY ANTI-MODERN TALE:

REVIEW: of Once (Terry Teachout, 3/23/12, WSJ)

"Once" is the most touching new musical to come to Broadway since "The Light in the Piazza" opened here in 2005, and it deserves to be a hit. Sure, it belongs off-Broadway, but if you don't see it now, you won't get to see Cristin Milioti, who is giving the kind of performance that in a just world would do for her what "Venus in Fur" did for Nina Arianda. What she does in "Once" would be worth seeing even if the show were less good than it is.

Not much happens in "Once," which is set in a Dublin pub and whose principal characters, Steve Kazee and Ms. Milioti, are identified only as "Guy" and "Girl." Guy is a singer-songwriter who lives with his father (David Patrick Kelly) and fixes vacuum cleaners for a living. He got dumped by his girlfriend, wrote a bunch of songs about the breakup, and sings them on the street. Just when he starts to lose faith in his talent, he meets Girl, an abrupt, intense Czech émigré who is sincere to the point of humorlessness ("I'm always serious--I'm Czech"). She loves his songs and encourages him to make a demo record, become famous and win back his girlfriend.

Naturally they fall for each other, but...I'd better stop there. It's enough to say that Guy and Girl may or may not be destined to live happily ever after, and that "Once" portrays their should-we-shouldn't-we difficulties with unexpected honesty. Here as in the film, the emphasis is on characterization, not action, and while Enda Walsh, who wrote the book, has spelled out much of what was implied in John Carney's screenplay, he's done so in a way that is anything but heavy-handed.

John Tiffany has staged "Once" with appropriate simplicity on an unpretentious set designed by Bob Crowley. The members of the 13-person cast double as the onstage orchestra, and their performances are as plain-spoken as the show itself.


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